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Headphones I Own In Order Of Preference

 

 

 

This is a review of the 20 best headphones I currently own with some added stuff at the end.  I made the choice to review both full-size and IEMs in this comparative review.  I was originally going to make this just a wiki, but as I put more and more effort into it I started to want to share it in the forum.  


Very briefly I want to clarify a few things:

  • My home rig is the MSB Platinum DAC iii and the amps I use are the TTVJ Millett 307a as well as the Larocca PRII MKii.  I've had the fortune of also auditioning most of these headphones on the Apex Pinnacle and Ray Samuels Audio B52 in my home.  I am presently looking to get a second main amplifier to compliment the 307a so some of my reviews will be edited at a later date I'm sure.  I will update the Wiki as my experience and equipment changes.
  • For IEMs I mainly use the iPod or the Ray Samuels Audio Hornet, SR71a (which I just sold), Larocco PRii, Ray Samuels Audio Tomahawk, the Meier Corda Move and the Headroom Total Bithead.  And I use them mainly with an iPod 5G :-)
  • All headphones are in stock configuration unless otherwise specified.
  • By "Uses" I am referring to which genre I listen to with the headphone as I think that is a key aspect of viewing a headphone.  I break the genres down into percentages which I just roughly estimate based on my personal listening experience.
  • My references to packaging have to do with a case that comes with the headphone and sometimes accessories, not the actual cardboard box that most headphones are "packaged" in.

 

20. Sennheiser IE8

Uses: Classical >40% / Jazz & Acoustic >30% / Rock <20%

Strengths: It is very tough comparing IEMs and full-size headphones.  They are totally different in the way they feature sound, not quite as much as speakers vs. headphones, but there are parallels in the comparison.  The IE8 is one of the few IEMs (as of this date) to use a dynamic transducer.  The Sony EX700 which I also own are another.  This is the better one in my opinion.  I enjoy the tonality of the bass especially in this IEM.  The mids are also very good here.  The user-adjustable bass feature is very very cool, though I don't know if it's necessary due to the amount of bass at the 0 position.  This has the widest sound-stage of all the IEMs I've tried.  The ear loops (to hang the cable on your ear) are an interesting and considerate feature, but I never used them.  Of course like all IEMs they are very well driven even out of an iPod and other portable players.

Weaknesses: The fit is poor, and I find that in terms of IEM isolation, most people have this problem.  I find the treble region excessively grainy.  There's not enough IEM sleeve options for this model in my opinion.  Westone, Shure, Ultimate Ears are far more generous with their sleeve variety.    

1270091530.jpg

 

19. Shure SE530

Uses: Classical <10% / Jazz & Acoustic >40% / Rock >50%

Strengths: Like all IEMs, portability is a key benefit.  The mids here are forward and make for an involving listen.  I enjoy the bass response as it is very present but no overtly boomy.  Packaging is very nice for an Universal IEM, maybe the best I've seen.

Weaknesses: The highs feel too rolled off for many genres which require treble to be more forward, such as classical.  I feel the Westone 3 is a better universal IEM in most aspects.  Like all IEMs, sound-staging ability is limited due to the absence of outer ear psychoacoustics. The cable feels cheap and does not loop around the ear well.  This last issue has since been resolved by Shure with the release of the SE535.

Shure_SE530.jpg

 

18. Ultrasone HFI-700 (same as HFI-650)

Uses: Classical <25% / Jazz & Acoustic >40% / Rock >35%

Strengths: A colored robust bass response makes these a fun listen sometimes.  They are decent out of a portable player but they don't get too loud.  Sound-stage is quite wide and enjoyable for a closed headphone.

Weaknesses: Lack of transparency.  The whole upper spectrum feels grainy to me.  The bass can be overwhelming at times as well as bloated.  The fake leather feels cheap, and the painted letters have since cracked of come off entirely.  They aren't extremely comfortable due to the fake leather accompanied by the slightly tighter than average grip.

c3cde8249c32ad51049bb1b9c50ed08d.jpg

 

17. Beyerdynamic DT770 250 ohm 2005 model

Uses: Classical >30% / Jazz & Acoustic >40% / Rock <30%

Strengths: These are very good closed headphones which isolate fairly well and have many of the sonic benefits that other open-seal Beyerdynamic models have.  The bass extends here really low and has massive impact.  The sound-stage is very nice for a closed model.  Headphone is extremely comfortable.  Great for using in the studio when leakage is of ultimate consideration.

Weaknesses: Mids feel scooped to me (recessed).  The bass can be overwhelming on some systems. Beyerdynamic has better offerings sonically (T1 / DT880) if price and open seal are of little matter to you.

DT770_3c_02__86189_zoom.jpg

 

 

16. Sony MDR-SA5000

Uses: Classical >60% / Jazz & Acoustic >35% / Rock <5%

Strengths: Very very fast transient action going on here.  I would imagine these would be great for electronic music, but I don't listen to that genre much.  Tonality is very nice for classical music.  These are fairly comfortable headphones in my opinion.

Weaknesses: These are too bright for a lot of music and ultimately I give the headphone less consideration because of this.  The bass is not as impactful as I would like it to be.  The stock cable (which is not user replaceable) is amongst the worst I've seen for a headphone at its price-point.  Overall I would call this headphone very cold, though some may like that very much especially if their system is already warm.

sony-mdr-sa5000.3521504.jpg

 

15. Denon ADH-D950

Uses: Classical <20% / Jazz & Acoustic >40% / Rock >40%

Strengths: Very nice tonal balance with a forward and colored bass.  Good for portable use, though they are ported.

Weaknesses: These feel flimsy and my pair is very old and has some weird deterioration of the padding which I've never seen on another headphone.  Headphone feels too bloated for some classical.  Denon has offered better in recent times.

d950.jpg

 

14. AKG K702 with Stefan Audio Art Equinox Balanced 4-Pin (only one sided balance)

Uses: Classical >80% / Jazz and Acoustic >18% / Rock <2%

Strengths: Sounds especially good with solo piano and chamber works.  Have a very enticing sound-stage similar to it's sibling the K501.  Fairly comfortable.  Detachable cable though I feel the K701 is a nicer looking model and I like the glossy finish as opposed to the matte.

Weaknesses: I've been known as a "hater" of these headphones for a long time.  It's not exactly true, but it's not exactly wrong. For one, the K501 do everything the K701/702 do, but better.  These can have a nasal / grainy presence at times.  These are very very hard to drive and you usually need to spend more than 5 times the cost of the headphone to even get adequate amplification out of the headphone.  These sound mediocre with all popular music genres to me.  They excel in their niche which is intimate acoustic settings which don't require much attention to bass.  They don't succeed in feeling transparent, but have a pleasantly neutral tinge to their signature.

AKG-K-702-on-side-with-cable.jpg

 

13. Westone 3

Uses: Classical <10% / Jazz & Acoustic >40% / Rock >50%

Strengths: These are my main portable choice.  I love the warmth and powerful bass for rocking out.  They are very fun and for an IEM really quite comfortable. Sound great from an iPod.

Weaknesses: It's hard to say.  For what they are they're not exactly weak, but I don't judge their sound seriously.  They are fun and a bit bassy.  I would never consider them a top of the line transducer though against the full size headphones listed below. I say this for every IEM entry, but the sound-stage is all inside the head.  These can be sibilant at times.  Sometimes they feel cluttered as well.

33421920-2-440-OVR-1.gif

 

12. Ultimate Ears UE10 Pro

Uses: Classical 33% / Jazz & Acoustic 33% / Rock 33%

*My pair is from the original run when Jerry Harvey was still with the company.  I don't know if Ultimate Ears has since altered the sonic design.

Strengths: Again its really a gamble comparing IEMs to full size headphones.  These were the most neutral IEMs I ever heard. For a while, when most of my listening was portable, these were my favorite headphones period, though I did not have 3/4 of what I have now.  Isolation with most IEMs are the best in the biz, this is no exception.  They sound great even out of an iPod.  Detachable cable

Weaknesses: I do not find hard-shell custom molds comfortable at all.  This is why I never ventured for the JH13 / 16.  Armature drivers have a different sound from Dynamic and Electrostatic drivers and it feels a little more grainy to me.  Sound-stage of IEMs never impress me due to lack of air and natural outer ear sound reception.  When I bought them there was no market for selling custom molded IEMs in the used market.  This has since changed, but if you don't like them you lose a lot of money and the custom molds are not returnable in most instances.

ultimate_ears_ue_10_pro-400-400.jpg

 

11. Denon ADH-D7000

Uses: Classical <20% / Jazz & Acoustic >40% / Rock >40%

Strengths: Wonderful bass and mids.  Great for just rocking out.  Very attractive headphones....much more-so than Denon's earlier offerings.  Imaging is quite on point here. Very comfortable despite the leather padding which can sometimes heat up. I enjoy playing these loud, haha:-)  The packaging is pretty nice here.

Weaknesses: There's a slight lack of transparency (maybe due to the closed seal).  The mids feel a very slightly recessed.  Bass can feel bloated on some systems.  Sound-stage is Denon's best offering, but not as realistic as some other brands.

denon-ah-d7000-high-end-headphones.jpg

 

10. Ultrasone Edition 8 Limited Edition

Uses: Classical <25% / Jazz & Acoustic >30% / Rock >45%

Strengths: Firstly, the isolation and portability here is insanely good!  These are without question, the best sounding portable headphone made as of the conclusion of 2010.  I haven't heard every portable headphone, but I have never heard one which came close to the Edition 8.  The sound feels neutral with a slightly forward bass which is nice for portable listening anyway.  I do experience the S-Logic difference and sound presentation feels slightly different from other brands in terms of where the sound is generating from.  There is a nice center image here.  Extremely comfortable and for some reason the leather does not bother me as much here.  Probably the most stylish headphone I own to most people.  The cable extension is also a plus and makes home listening very easy, whiles still maintaining the portability of a short cable.  Packaging of the Limited Edition Pair is gorgeous.

Weaknesses: So darn expensive that I'm afraid to take them outside and therefore the portability factor is a moot point.  The tonality of these headphones is extremely good, but I feel the 9 pairs listed below are slightly better in most areas of tonality.  Sound-stage is a bit inside the head.  The reinvention of this product at various price-points makes me weary of the company's intentions.  

Ed8.jpg

 

9. AKG K501

Uses: Classical >80% / Jazz & Acoustic >15% / Rock <5%

Strengths: Beautifully natural sound-stage.  Love the fact that it's so inexpensive and so good at classical.  Mids are in a very top-class.  Bass is very well defined for classical.  AKG's most comfortable offering in my opinion (of the pairs I've used).

Weaknesses: The HD800 aims for a similar sonic achievement as this headphone but does most of it a bit better.  Bass will be too light for some tastes, especially rock and hip hop enthusiasts.  Makes poorly recorded records sound poorer.  Not the easiest headphone to drive.

k501.jpg

 

8. Sennheiser HD600 with Moon Audio Silver Dragon Balanced 3-Pin Dual XLR

Uses: Classical <25% / Jazz & Acoustic >40% / Rock >35%

Strengths: Tone is lush, beautiful and involving.  These are one of the most neutral headphones in the market even today.  Poorly mastered recordings still sound good on this headphone.  These are very comfortable to me (though some people don't agree).  I appreciate that almost all the parts are user replaceable. Detachable cable!  I still think this is Sennheiser's most versatile offering in terms of amping and is pleasing in many genres equally.

Weaknesses: Not really a weakness, but is very very similar to the slightly more colored HD650.  The HD650's lusher coloring makes me gravitate towards it more often than the HD600.  The treble is slightly recessed here (or as they say veiled).  The sound-stage is narrower than others.

JabenNetwork@25.jpg

 

7. Sennheiser HD650 with Moon Audio Silver Dragon Balanced 3-pin Dual XLR

Uses: Classical: <5% / Jazz & Acoustic >40% / Rock >55%

Strengths: Tone is lush, beautiful and involving.  Impactful bass.  I find these headphones very comfortable (others do not).  Transient response is not super fast, but feels natural.  Great for poorly mastered recordings.  Benefit greatly from balanced recabling. Again, like its sibling, most parts are user replaceable. Detachable cable!

Weaknesses: Very mellow and sometimes a bit sleepy.  Bass can simply be too impactful from some amps.  Treble is rolled off and makes it impossible to enjoy with classical on most systems for me.  Sound-stage feels defined but limited in terms of spaciousness.

Sennheiser%20HD650.jpg

 

6. Beyerdynamic T1 with reterminated 4-Pin Stock cable

Uses: Classical: >35% / Jazz & Acoustic >35% / Rock <30%

Strengths: Tonality feels to me like an HD800 with a slightly greater emphasis on the bass and treble and less-so mids.  Excellent headphone.  Imaging is amongst the best I've heard due to the angled drivers.  Headphone feels very neutral on most systems which I've heard.  Transient response is extremely fast.  Less amp picky than other headphones in it's price range.  User replaceable ear pads!  Packaging is fairly nice.

Weaknesses: A little bit of sizzly grain in the upper mids, similar to that of the HD800, but a slight bit more emphasized.  Beyerdynamic has made more comfortable headphones using the same ergonomic design, though these are still very comfortable.

T1.jpg

 

5. AKG K1000 (bass heavy version) with Stefan Audio Art Equinox balanced 4-Pin

Uses: Classical >80% / Jazz & Acoustic >15% / Rock <5%

Strengths: Most realistic sound-stage in the industry.  Naturally produced crossfeed.  Bass feels wonderfully impactful for acoustic instruments.  Overall sound is extremely neutral.

Weaknesses: Headphones have the least isolation and most leakage on the planet.  Headphones can feel slightly grainy at times in the upper mids and highs.  These are very very very hard to drive.  You need to make sure your amp is suited for this headphone.  Sound-stage is too wide for most rock music to be enjoyed as much as other headphones.  They are comfortable to me, but some may find the temple pads a bother.  Some pairs have issues where grills rattle due to deteriorated glue or improper grill installation.

akg_k1000.jpg

 

4. Sennheiser HD800 with APureSound Balanced V3 dual 3-pin XLR

Uses: Classical >65% / Jazz & Acoustic >20% / Rock <5%

Strengths: Wonderful mids here.  You feel a neutral presence when listening to this headphone.  The sound-stage is one of the most well angled and defined. The bass, while a bit reserved (on some systems) is extremely well reproduced for acoustic  instruments.  Transient response is extremely fast.  These are also the most comfortable headphones I own.  Detachable cable!

Weaknesses: These headphones make badly mastered recordings sound awful.  Highs can feel slightly grainy at times and sibilant on some systems.  The sound feels a little bass-shy for a lot of genres such as rock and hip hop.  They are extremely amp-picky, more than usual and can drastically change tonal balance depending on the amp.  The plastic looks nice but feels cheap in the hand.

sennheiser-hd800-headphones.jpg?w=499&h=378

 

3. HifiMan HE-6

Uses: Classical >50% / Jazz & Acoustic >30% / Rock <20%

Strengths: My vote for best mids.  Bass reproduction is impactful but very tight.  Highs are smooth and clear. Transient response feels extremely natural and allows optimal detail. Headphones are pretty. Detachable cable!

Weaknesses: Harder to drive than most headphones.  The sound-stage feels more closed in than it should.  Feels very slightly bright at times which leads me to stay away from poorly mastered recordings.  The inside of the cup sometimes touches my ear and irritates it.

HE6.jpg

 

2. Audez'e LCD-2 with APuresound V3 balanced 4-pin cable

Uses: Classical <20% / Jazz & Acoustic >33% / Rock >40%

Strenghts: Some of the best mids I've ever heard.  Bass is impactful and tight.  Highs are deliciously smooth.  Transient response here feels very very natural and allows for great detail to be heard. The wood is beautiful, and I appreciate the handmade look.  Detachable cable! Love the wooden box it comes in with the satin-like interior.

Weaknesses: On some systems I can imagine the treble would be slightly recessed for some tastes.  The leather heats up my ears.  The grip of the headphone on the head is a bit too tight to deem the pair as extremely comfortable.  The foam of the headband looks and feels cheap (but is comofrtable).  The sound-stage is fairly wide, but due to lack of angling feels a little more linear than optimal.

8.jpg

 

1. Sony MDR-R10 (bass heavy version) with balanced stock 4-pin

Uses: Classical 33% / Jazz & Acoustic 33% / Rock 33%

Strengths: Liquid mids, excellent punchy and impactful bass, extended and smooth highs.  Sound-stage is very well defined. The transient response is still one of the best.  Overall, this headphone to me is the most versatile and complete listening experience in terms of transparency, though it may be outclassed in some areas by other headphones even if only by a marginal amount.  Packaging here is the most grandiose of all my headphones.

Weaknesses: So expensive that I can't always relax when using them.  The leather pads can make me sweat.  Other headphones are preferable for classical depending on my mood.  Some amps make the bass heavy R10 a little to bass forward.  

 

 

sony_mdr_r10.jpg

 

 

 

 

Addendum:

Other headphones which I own which did not make it on the list:

Sony EX700

Sensaphonics 2XS

 

Other headphones which I have owned but own no longer (in order of best to worst personal preference of sound):

Sony MDR-R10 (bass light version) ....sold this to recoup my losses from the Single Power scam...miss it terribly.

HifiMan HE-5 (non LE version)

Denon D5000

Beyerdynamic DT880 (250 ohm version 2005)

AKG K701 (same sound as the K702)

Beyerdynamic DT770 (250 ohm version 2003)

Sennheiser HD595

Ultrasone Proline 750

Ultrasone Proline 650

Beyerdynamic DT990 (250 ohm version 2005)

Sennheiser HD25

Sennheiser HD280

Ultimate Ears Triple Fi 10 Pro

Sony MDR-7509 (non-X version)

Grado SR60

Audio Technica ATH-W5000

Ultrasone HFI-550

 

Headphones which I have never owned but either auditioned in my home or had extensive time with at meets (in order of best to worst personal preference of sound):

 

Stax Omega 2 MKI

Stax Omega 2 MKII

Stax SR-404LE

Stax SR-404

Grado PS1000

 

Headphones which have high reputations which I have heard but need more time with before I form an opinion:

Grado RS1

Grado RS2

 

Headphones which I have never had the pleasure of hearing and would love to:

Sennheiser HE-90 (Orpheus)

Sennheiser HE-60 (Baby Orpheus)

Sony Qualia 010

Beyerdynamic DT48

Beyerdynamic DT880 (600 ohms)

Ultrasone Edition 10

Audio Technica ATH-L3000

Audio Technica ATH-W2002

Grado PS1

Grado HP2

AKG K240 Sextet

AKG K1000 (bass light version)

JH13 (if softer molding is considered)

JH16 (if softer molding is considered)

Westone ES

HE Audio Jade

Stax Lambda Pro

Stax Lambda Signature

Stax Lambda Pro Signature

Stax 4070

Stax Omega 1

Stax SR-507

Smeggy Thunderpants

JVC DX1000

 

Finally:
Although I was not able to compare them all side by side, this is my ranking of all the headphones I have ever owned and heard (up to 40)....starting with the best

 

1. Sony MDR-R10 (bass heavy version)

2. Audez'e LCD2

3. HifiMan HE-6

4. Sony MDR-R10 (bass light version)

5. Sennheiser HD800

6. Stax Omega 2 MkI

7. Stax Omega 2 MKII

8. AKG K1000 (bass heavy version)

9. Stax SR-404LE

10. Stax SR 404

11. Beyerdynamic T1

12. Sennheiser HD650

13. Sennheiser HD600

14. AKG K501

15. Ultrasone Edition 8 LE

16. Denon ADH-D7000

17. HifiMan HE-5 (non LE version)

18. Denon ADH-D5000

19. Beyerdynamic DT880 (250 ohm version 2005)

20. Ultimate Ears UE10 Pro

21. Westone 3

22. AKG K701 - K702

23. Denon ADH-D950

24. Grado PS1000

25. Sony MDR-SA5000

26. Beyerdynamic DT770 (250 ohm version 2003)

27. Beyerdynamic DT770 (250 ohm version 2005)

28. Sennheiser HD595

29. Ultrasone Proline 750

30. Ultrasone Proline 650

31. Ultrasone HFI-700

32. Shure SE530

33. Sennheiser IE-8

34. Beyerdynamic DT990 (250 ohm version 2005)

35. Sennheiser HD25

36. Ultimate Ears Triple Fi 10 Pro

37. Sony MDR-7509 (non X version)

38. Grado SR60

39. Audio Technica ATH-W5000

40. Ultrasone HFI-550

 

 

Just my Opinion:-)

Comments (3)

It's a genuine opportunity to hear such detailed and thorough consideration from someone so dedicated
to headphone conoisurship, and someone fortunate enough to have access to so very many phones.
Headphone pornography. I need a bib for the drool.
Would love you to let go candidly with general remarks on GRADO technology since you obviously do not favor them at all, and I do. I have so much to learn. Thank you
Would you be interested in having an 'Open House' for your headphone collection? Kidding of course. I'm new to the headphone forum and found this to be incredibly fascinating. I'm an Altec horn junkie at heart and have tons of speakers but am turning to headphones because of condo living. I'm taking your opinions to heart and will be selling off some stuff (not the perfect 19s) to get a pair or two of these wonderful sets. You mentioned some ipod use and or portable listening sources. I'd like something for the home and a new HTC DNA smartphone to start with. I too, need to go wipe the drool from my mouth. Excuse me...
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